Lawmakers seek to question South Korea's detained 'Rasputin' Choi Soon Sil

Choi Soon Sil (centre) arrives for questioning into her suspected role in political scandal at the office of the independent counsel in Seoul, South Korea, on Dec 24, 2016.
Choi Soon Sil (centre) arrives for questioning into her suspected role in political scandal at the office of the independent counsel in Seoul, South Korea, on Dec 24, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean lawmakers sought Monday (Dec 26) to question the woman at the heart of a corruption scandal that triggered the impeachment of President Park Geun Hye, as special prosecutors raided the home of a former top presidential aide.

A team of prosecutors seized a number of documents during an early morning swoop on the central Seoul residence of Kim Ki Choon, who served as Park's chief of staff between 2013-15, the Yonhap news agency reported.

The raid was part of an ongoing probe into a huge corruption scandal, focused on Park's long-time friend Choi Soon Sil - currently on trial for extortion and abuse of power.

As part of their brief, the special prosecutors are investigating the extent of the president's alleged collusion with Choi in shaking down a number of major conglomerates to provide "donations" to two foundations she controlled.

The National Assembly voted to impeach Park earlier this month, stripping away her substantial executive powers.

She remains president in name, pending a decision by the Constitutional Court on whether to ratify parliament's impeachment motion.

Kim Ki-Choon has a long association with Park's family, having also served her father - the late military strongman Park Chung Hee who led the country for 18 years after seizing power in a 1961 military coup.

Those close ties have led to allegations that he must have known of Choi's influence over the president, and to the South Korean media dubbing her a 'female Rasputin".

Park allegedly leaked confidential documents to her friend, and allowed her to meddle in state affairs - including the appointments of senior officials.

A separate parliamentary probe into the scandal made a fresh effort Monday to question Choi, with lawmakers setting up a special hearing in the detention centre where she is being held.

Choi has refused several summonses to appear before the lawmakers' investigative committee which has been conducting high-profile hearings over the past two weeks.

The committee was scheduled to begin questioning Choi at 10am (9am Singapore time), but there was no guarantee she would leave her cell to attend.

There are no legal grounds for forcing witnesses to attend a parliamentary hearing, although they can be held in contempt for not doing so.